Keep the swing as simple as possible

Each tennis point starts with a serve. It is the only stroke where you are in complete control, says Ramesh Krishnan.

I like to teach the serve after the groundstrokes. Together, they form the backbone of your game. I would call these the primary strokes. I don't know if the reader is aware that legally, to serve underhand is permissible. While I have seen this at the highest levels of the game on rare occasions, I don't see it at the recreational level.

Maybe, this shouldn't be the case. Maybe, a person starting out should serve underhand for a while working simultaneously on the overhead serve till he gains sufficient control. This thought occurs when I see a plethora of double faults in the early stages. Nevertheless, I am not going to talk about the underhand serve.

The overhead serve is unique. Each tennis point starts with a serve. It is the only stroke where you are in complete control. You are standing still, so moving to the ball and positioning oneself is not the concern. You are permitted to start the stroke at your convenience.

But on the other hand, it involves the coordination of both limbs. This requires a lot of practice and coordination. Also, the fact that the stroke is hit overhead means that you are working against gravity.

The way I teach a beginner to serve would be to keep the swing as simple as possible. The racquet hand can be taken up ahead of time and held at the hitting position and then the ball placed up (Notice the usage of the word `placed' as opposed to `tossed'). Initially, you want to get the racquet to meet the ball consistently on the `sweet spot'. This is the absolute starting point for the serve.

While this may sound simple, in practice it is a lot harder. A big part of the problem is that the beginner has already a preconceived notion about how he has to serve. He has already seen the top players in action with their complicated motions and wants to do the same — little realising that neither does he have the coordination nor the physique of the top player or that the top player has developed that serve after going through the routine millions of times. It is useful to remember the acronym KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The next question would be what grip to use? I would say whatever grip is comfortable. My philosophy is not to burden a beginner with too much information. Let him/her just get used to getting the ball into play. Many start with the forehand grip. That is fine, though at a later stage, I would advocate a shift to the backhand grip, particularly if you are a youngster with tournament ambitions.

It is very important in the early stages to gain control of the stroke. You will have to repeatedly be able to put the ball in play to start a rally. The next stage would be to put the ball in a way that does not put you at a disadvantage in the rally.

In a nutshell:

1. A comfortable stance behind the baseline with your side to the net.

2.Try and avoid foot-faults right from the beginning. (Making contact with the playing area before striking the ball).

3. In the beginning, work on an abbreviated swing. Place the ball up gently and meet the ball in the centre of the racquet.

4. Consistency is the key. Keep double faults to a minimum. Serve at a speed that is comfortable. Don't be macho.

You are now ready to go out and play a game of tennis. Periodically, you can go back and brush up on fundamentals.